Adam Schiff speaks about intelligence committee report on Trump impeachment

Washington insiders told me what they think of Jerry Nadler. It's very different to what they thought of Adam Schiff

One source worried Nadler was 'totally unequipped to handle the Trump-era GOP's antics'. But Eric Swalwell and other colleagues disagreed

Andrew Feinberg
Washington DC
Wednesday 04 December 2019 16:37

When viewers across the United States and around the world fix their eyes upon the latest chapter in the impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump, they'll see some familiar sights.

They will see members of Congress sitting behind the dais in the ornate, cavernous room normally used by the House Ways and Means Committee — a room so large that it was used as the House's chamber during renovations decades ago. It’s the same room the last 12 hearings have been held in.

They might even recognize two of those members — Texas Republican John Ratcliffe and California Democrat Eric Swalwell — from their time participating in those previous hearings, as both sit on the Intelligence Committee.

But aside from the venue and the presence of Ratcliffe and Swalwell, what will transpire in room 1100 of the Longworth House Office Building will bear little resemblance to anything that has transpired so far.

On Tuesday, the Intelligence Committee voted to approve its 300-page impeachment report, which was prepared in consultation with the House Foreign Affairs and Oversight Committees. But the question of what to do with the report next lies in the hands of a man who couldn't be more different from the man who wrote it. And some Democrats have told me they’re unsure what to expect.

That's because the man who will oversee the next phase of the inquiry is not Adam Schiff, but Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler.

In some ways, Nadler — a New York City Democrat who first won election to the House in 1999 — shares some commonalities with Schiff, whose district includes a large portion of Los Angeles County. Both represent parts of the largest megalopolises on their respective coasts, and both served in their respective states' legislatures before winning seats in the House.

But the similarities end there.

Some of the differences are physical — the 5'11" Schiff cuts a trim, camera-ready figure, while Nadler is seven inches shorter and has struggled with his weight for years — and some is in their method — while Schiff is a practiced, extemporaneous speaker, Nadler tends to rely on notes.

Another difference between the two chairmen is in their respective backgrounds. While Schiff came to politics after a successful career as a federal prosecutor, Nadler is a career politician who studied for a law degree at night while working a series of jobs in the New York assembly and the New York City Off-Track Betting Corporation.

But the difference that worries Democrats is the one that was obvious to anyone who watched last month's hearings after Nadler's attempt to run an impeachment hearing featuring ex-Trump adviser Corey Lewandowski.

While the Intelligence Committee's hearings were kept to a tight schedule by Schiff's ability to keep Republican antics under wraps, Lewandowski's turn as a witness was widely derided as a fiasco. According to Democratic insiders, that fiasco was also the reason why House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made a point of putting her fellow Californian in charge of the early stages of the inquiry — while keeping Nadler as far away as possible.

But because impeachment is firmly in the Judiciary Committee's bailiwick, Pelosi could only keep Nadler's hand off the gavel for so long. Now the inquiry is, by necessity, back under his control. Some insiders are worried that compared with Schiff — the unflappable ex-prosecutor who took on Russian spies — Nadler is out of his depth, and will be easily discombobulated and overwhelmed by Republicans' yelling and interrupting with an endless stream of nonsense objections.

One such insider I spoke with — Everything Trump Touches Dies author and self-described "apostate Republican" Rick Wilson — put it succinctly: "Nadler is no Schiff."

Another veteran Washington observer — whose allegiances run more leftward than Wilson’s, and who wanted to remain anonymous — complained that Democrats had put someone "totally unequipped to handle the Trump-era GOP's antics" in charge of the committee everyone knew would eventually handle impeachment of the 45th president.

But other Democrats have more confidence in Nadler, who will be armed with one tool he didn't have when Lewandowski spent an entire hearing mocking and demeaning the House majority.

Under the House Resolution authorizing the impeachment inquiry, Nadler will be able to hand off the first 45 minutes of questions to a staff attorney. It's a tactic that proved useful for Schiff, who employed former Southern District of New York prosecutor Daniel Goldman in that role, to great effect.

According to a source working on Democrats' inquiry, Nadler will hand off questioning duties to Norm Eisen, a veteran Washington lawyer who previously served as the Obama White House's Special Counsel for Ethics and Government Reform, was America's ambassador to the Czech Republic from 2011 to 2014, and who was chairman of the board for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington until Nadler brought him on to assist with the impeachment inquiry.

The rules established by H. Res 660, the source said, will preclude Republicans on the committee from engaging in "unprecedented obstruction" and making "frivolous complaints about process issues."

Eliot Mincberg, who served as the Judiciary Committee's chief counsel for oversight and investigations under former chairman John Conyers, said the new rules will help, but added that he believed Nadler will be "up to the challenge" so long as he is prepared.

"I'm expecting that [Nadler] will be able to handle it. Not in the same way that Schiff did… but he will deal with it nonetheless," said Mincberg, now a senior fellow at People for the American Way.

Mincberg predicted that Nadler's staff will have helped him be ready to respond to Republican delaying tactics with "different counters to various parliamentary things," but did not want to go into much detail for fear of tipping off Republicans on the committee.

"Chairman Nadler is a very prepared chairman, but I suspect he will attempt to be even more prepared than usual," Mincberg said. "There are limits to the power of a chairman, but I think he does have more authority as a result of the new resolution and he will attempt to use it in a way that, while protecting the appearance of fairness, protect the reality of getting the job done."

When reached by text message, Rep. Eric Swalwell — the only Democrat who will participate in both rounds of hearings — expressed a similar sentiment when asked about his and his colleagues' faith in Nadler's abilities.

"I have all the confidence in the world that Chairman Nadler will preside over a fair and purposeful impeachment proceeding," he said.

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